Supporters of Sheffield United have seen defeats on the big stage all too familiar a late but non so much cruel as the one they experienced last saturday night. In what was a brave defensive effort saw Maznchester United suject to 70% possession throughout but more importantly long range efforts of desperation. The only time they were handed a clean shot on Long's goal was after Depay was brought down in the penalty area for Rooney to take his chance - his third goal in consecutive games against United.
Wayne Rooney scored an injury time penalty against Sheffield United to spare Louis van Gaal's blushes and send Manchester United through to the fourth round of the FA Cup by the finest of margins. In the third of six added minutes, Rooney stepped up and blasted the ball past Blades goalkeeper George Long after Memphis Depay went down in the box following a challenge by Dean Hammond. Rooney and his United team-mates made a habit of scoring late goals for Sir Alex Ferguson and Van Gaal will be happy they still know how to dig themselves out of trouble at the end of matches.
This was not a victory the Red Devils deserved. At times it seemed the home supporters inside Old Trafford were on the verge of an open revolt against their manager. They cheered ironically when Matteo Darmian registered the hosts' first shot on target in the 69th minute and thousands had already streamed out of Old Trafford by the time Rooney had scored from the spot. The home supporters inside Old Trafford had every right to complain. Once again they did not get value for money from their players or their manager. Far from it. In truth, it was as bad a performance seen here this season.
Sheffield United began the day 46 places below the 20-time English champions in the league ladder. They have been beaten by Bury, Crewe and Colchester this season. Last week they lost 3-2 at home to Peterborough. But the League One side never looked being defeated in this third round tie until Depay went down following an apparent trip by Hammond. Van Gaal's men mustered just one shot on target in the whole match and they only came to life when their manager brought on Depay and Jesse Lingard with half an hour to go.
Van Gaal had selected a strong line-up containing nine internationals, but they could not muster a single attempt on target in the opening 45 minutes. Rooney plunged a long-range shot into the East Stand and then rounded the goalkeeper after a delicious ball from Darmian, but the Blades' defence regrouped and blocked the striker's path to goal. A few home fans started urging their team to pass the ball forwards, but their calls fell on deaf ears. It was the same old stuff from Van Gaal's men - sideways pass after sideways pass. Shortly after Daley Blind had ploughed the ball into the stand, the half-time whistle blew and boos reverberated around Old Trafford.
It was the 10th successive home game that Manchester United had failed to score before the break - a damning statistic that demonstrates how boring the football has become at Old Trafford. It was only when Depay and Lingard came off the bench that the hosts looked threatening. The £25million Dutch winger fired a low shot just wide of Long's goal, causing the home fans to rise to their feet and applaud ironically. Finally they had seen some attacking intent from their team. And then with 21 minutes left, the hosts managed their first shot on target - a weak effort from Darmian.
The Blades held firm at the back as United launched attack after attack. Depay came close with a low shot in the final minute, but many home fans were not around to see it. Thousands had already left, disappointed with what they had seen. Those who stayed were relieved to see referee Jon Moss point to the penalty spot after contact between Hammond and Depay. ROONEY sent Long the wrong way and put United into the fourth round.
Manchester United: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Schweinsteiger, Fellaini (Pereira 78), Herrera (Lingard 60), Mata (Memphis 60), Martial, Rooney. Unused: Romero, McNair, Varela, Keane.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Basham, Coutts, Sharp (Flynn 64), Collins, Woolford, Sammon (Done 90), McEveley (Reed 78), Edgar, Hammond. Unused: Howard, Baxter, Campbell-Ryce, Adams.